Containers vs Virtual Machines: Which Is Right For You?


Virtual machines are no new concept when it comes to web application hosting. A solution that has been used for a number of years for physical hosts and more recently for cloud hosts – through the use of services like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services. However, excitement is growing around a new alternative, “containers”.

Containers vs Virtual Machines: Which Is Right For You?

But what’s the difference and which one is right for you?

Container is a relatively new term in cloud computing and is therefore often thrown around as a straight-up alternative to traditional virtual private servers (virtual machines). However, according to Kubernetes Hosting, whilst this is true to some degree, they’re also a lot more than that. This is true in the sense that whilst a virtual machine is responsible for virtualizing all elements of a server – including both its software and hardware – a container instead operates within a shared operating system environment. This cuts out the need for resources dedicated to running the operating system, and therefore makes containers much more efficient.

This lack of control over an operating system has its clear-cut advantages. It means that a container is able to initiate in just milliseconds compared to a traditional virtual private server – which requires the booting of an operating system. And as aforementioned, the lack of resources required by an operating system means that using a container is almost always going to be more resource and cost-effective.

According to ZDNet, the advantages of containers has led to a surge in popularity for services like Docker – an easy to use container platform. It also leads to the introduction of containers in Microsoft’s long-standing Windows Server.

That being said, containers to still have their disadvantages. By nature, they’re harder to manage than a traditional virtual private server – which has led to the popularity of services like the aforementioned Docker. This is especially the case when a large number of containers are running on one server. Containers also arguably have a larger attack surface area because of their shared operating system and could, therefore, lead to vulnerabilities in your application.

So, how do you decide which is right for you?

The answer to that question will ultimately depend on your individual needs. If you’re looking to run multiple instances of a single application, then there’s no doubt that containers are going to be a more effective solution. However, running several different applications –  each with their own requirements – is ultimately going to be better served by the traditional virtual machine route.

Those requirements also need to be taken into consideration. Given that each of your containers will run within one operating system environment, your choice of operating system for the application is severely restricted. Meanwhile, a virtual machine allows you to take advantage of multiple operating systems.

In short, a traditional virtual private server, or virtual machine, remains the most flexible and secure option. However, if you’re looking to be frugal with your resources and to keep costs to a minimum, then a container offers a viable alternative. And maybe for some applications, the answer lies in a hybrid of both.

Meet Morakhiya is a freelance journalistic writer. He enjoys sharing information, inspiring people, and writing about pretty much everything about technology that helps small businesses, build brand awareness, engage their target audience and generate more leads. To get in contact with Morakhiya, feel free to reach out to him via email.

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